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Kaelynn Partlow gets help when she needs it from a most adorable source.

Partlow, a 20-year-old Simpsonville resident, works as a therapist with Project Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides services for all ages across the autism spectrum.

Partlow is in a unique position to understand the challenges her clients face.

“I was diagnosed with autism at 10, but that (was discovered) because I was having extreme difficulty in school academically – not socially, I could get by there,” she said.

After homeschooling for a while, Partlow started at Hope Academy, where she not only found her footing with her autism diagnosis, she found a way to channel her passion for dogs into something that could make life easier for herself and others.

“They had a connection with Dogs for Autism,” she said. “From there, I got an internship.”

As a teenager, Partlow attended training with Guiding Eyes for Blind and she continued to show dogs, something that had been an interest of hers for years.

Having a service dog can benefit people with a wide variety of needs. For children with autism, Partlow said safety is a priority.

“A lot of times, kids with autism will get up during the night,” she said.

A trained service dog can block children who try to run and alert parents if they are awake during the night. For adults, the needs may be different.

“For me, I use my service dog, Sampson, for crowd buffering, which is exactly what it sounds like,” Partlow said.

Sampson, a golden retriever, can stand 3 to 5 feet from Partlow and serve as a buffer if a crowd is too large. He also provides deep pressure therapy when needed.

“If he’s laying on you, it forces you to take breaths,” Partlow said. “If you are having a meltdown or panic attack, you have to take deep breaths.”

Partlow’s first service dog, Sabrina, is retired now.

“My intention was to train her as a therapy dog but I realized she had a little bit more potential,” she said.

When she is out with Sampson, Partlow said she gets a lot of questions that she sometimes simply doesn’t want to answer. Some are inappropriate, even if well meaning, like “What is wrong with you?” Some (“Are you a puppy raiser/trainer?”) are asked because she does not have a visible disability.

While Partlow believes strongly in the value of service dogs, she said it is frustrating to see people who abuse the system to bring their pets where they might not otherwise be allowed. She encourages families of children with autism or any other condition which could benefit from a service animal to seek out a local program to help match them with a trained, qualified helper who can also become a lifelong friend.

Sampson goes to work with Partlow and is still honing his training.

“It doesn’t leave much time for training for other people,” Partlow said.

But Sampson is so much more than a pretty face.

“It means independence,” Partlow said. “Without a service dog, I have to wait for my mom or sister or boyfriend to go with me to run an errand or go to the bank. By the time Sabrina was fully trained, I was getting my driver’s license, which is kind of useless if you can’t go anywhere. It means I don’t have to wait for someone. I recently went to the dentist without my mom, without anyone.”

What is a service animal?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, and alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack or performing other duties. They are working animals, not pets.

(Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section ada.gov)

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